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Tens of thousands flee fires as Israeli leaders blame Arab minority for arson

Xinhua | Updated: 2016-11-25 10:00

Tens of thousands flee fires as Israeli leaders blame Arab minority for arson

An emergency personnel member evacuates a woman as a wildfire burns in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Israel November 24, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]

JERUSALEM - Tens of thousands of people fled roaring bushfires in Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, on Thursday, as the country's leaders blamed Palestinians for intentionally starting the fire.

Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan told reporters that "up to half" of the fires over the past days had been "arson terror," and transportation minister, Israel Katz, accused Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Speaking at a press conference in Haifa, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "any arson or incitement for arson is an act of terror. Whoever try to burn down parts of Israel will be punished."

Arab lawmakers reacted angrily on the accusation, saying the statements were inciting against the country's Arab minority.

The fire was most serious in Haifa. Spreading quickly through the dry air and windy weather, the blaze forced at least 60,000 people to leave their homes in the coastal city of Haifa.

No serious injuries were reported, but more than 100 people were hospitalized after they inhaled smoke, the medical emergency service said in a statement.

In an unusual move, the Homefront Command called up 300 firefighter reservists from two Search and Rescue battalions in Haifa, a military spokesperson said in a statement.

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